For the past two academic years, I have been fortunate enough to be the International Middle Years Curriculum coordinator at Futuraskolan International School of Stockholm (FS-ISS) in Sweden. 2020-21 has unequivocally been one of the most demanding academic years for educators, but it was also productive and rewarding as we succeeded in our joint IPC/IMYC Accreditation process.
The driving question for us was twofold: do our learners know why they are being taught what they are being taught, and how to progress in their learning?
From the very beginning, we directed our focus on understanding the IMYC2020 updates to the Process to Facilitate Learning, and to expand our practices to better address each of its steps. What I consider a success story is the effort, creativity, and adaptability our enthusiastic team of teachers showed when it came to the Knowledge Harvest.
The Knowledge Harvest
To fully understand the significance of the Knowledge Harvest in the IMYC, one has to realise that the Learning Process is not a cycle with a beginning and an end, but a series of recurring steps, intricately connected with each other as well as with past and future units.
It is undeniable that students learn when the knowledge and skills taught relate to their interests, and when they understand how the new learning will support their academic and personal growth. This has to be the first step, and it can be attained through a carefully planned, exciting Entry Point activity that explains the Big Idea of the unit and outlines the goals the students will develop in their different subjects.
Common mistakes and how to overcome them:
Generating interest and excitement in the new unit of learning is a start, but it shouldn’t end there. It is here and now that learners can already start reflecting and making connections to previous themes and topics, and think ahead to how their new unit will build on, but also differ from what they already know and are able to do. We as teachers can provide students with the opportunity, the tools, and support to raise appropriate and relevant questions. This is where the Knowledge Harvest starts, but it is also the point where one can make a crucial mistake.
Through trial and error, we came to realise that the Knowledge Harvest cannot merely be a spontaneous, brief discussion in which learners simply generate questions about the new topic and share what they already know. Appropriate time needs to be made in the planning for students to return to those questions and explore them, drawing on the new learning, as well as to reflect on the progress of their knowledge and skills throughout the unit.
Simply completing a Knowledge Harvest task as a disconnected step and moving on will never be adequate. This is when we realised that our unit planners have to be living documents rather than prescriptive ones. In that sense, we as a team of teachers had to model Adaptability, by updating our planning to address our students’ interests and needs, and to recognise our successes and failures. An effective way to maintain the standards and core of a unit while making the necessary changes in the planning was adding a feedback section to our unit planners, noting down what went well and areas for improvement.
The Knowledge Harvest in Practice
What started mainly with learner-generated questions on post-it notes and Know-Want to know-Learned (KWL) charts, developed into a greater variety of practices:
Braindumps - which give students the opportunity to brainstorm their existing knowledge on a topic (you can make this more fun by giving them a sketch of the human brain to write on);
Charts - in which students can record their assumptions and preconceptions, to review them later on in the unit;
Game-based learning platforms - such as Kahoot, Quizizz, and Quizlet, as well as online pre testing platforms, such as Socrative and Google Forms, which can later also be used for post-testing, thus enabling students and teachers to compare the initial with the final results.
When it comes to harvesting skills, the IMYC has provided us with an invaluable tool—the Assessment for Learning (AfL) Programme. One of our practices is to provide students with skills-based tasks similar to but shorter than the summative assessment or unit projects. The learners have opportunities to self or peer-assess their work, receive advice from the teacher, read and evaluate sample work, all the while using the Beginning, Developing, and Mastering-level descriptors found in the AfL rubrics. Much like with knowledge, students can keep track of their development and identify connections in the skills required across units and, often, across subjects.
You reap the harvest you have sown
Once reinforcing links established in the Knowledge Harvest became a standard and consistent practice, learners were able to independently make connections between previous and current learning, express how subjects are interlinked through the Big Idea, as well as talk about their progress throughout units and academic years. To further support our students this academic year and in the future, we will continue having discussions on our best practices and our less successful moments.
We recognise that more progress can be made if you share and exchange ideas on implementing the IMYC.
Find out more about Knowledge Harvests and the role they play in the Process to Facilitate Learning with Maria Koutsoupaki in the fourth episode of our International Curriculum Specialist Series.